By LaKeshia N. Myers
Much of politics is posturing. Whether it comes in the form of messaging bills (that have no real chance of being passed) or eloquently written press releases that can often fall on deaf ears. The disappointing reality of politics is that change occurs much too slowly and often those that need immediate assistance, fight the “good fight” and never reap the benefits of their labor.
But every once in a while, there comes an opportunity for a leader to enact change that has an immediate impact. Last week, President Biden took his chance and opened a window of opportunity for thousands of people who have been unjustly impacted by announcing a three pronged plan to end the war on marijuana:
First, he announced a full and unconditional pardon of all prior federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. This pardon will help thousands with prior convictions seeking housing, employment, benefits, and educational opportunities who are currently ineligible based on federal statutory or regulatory bars on individuals with prior drug convictions.
Second, the President is urging all Governors to follow his lead and issue pardons for state marijuana possession offenses. Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the simple possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason either.
Third, the President is asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to begin the administrative process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug, treated the same as heroin and LSD and more strictly than fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs driving our overdose epidemic. Changing how marijuana is scheduled would advance research and facilitate the appropriate medical use of marijuana.
According to the Wisconsin Public Radio, marijuana usage is equal across racial groups, Black people are more likely to be arrested and convicted for possession of the drug in Wisconsin. Milwaukee County’s arrest disparity is lower than Wisconsin, but Black people are 3.2 times more likely than white people to be arrested. The worst disparities in Wisconsin are in Ozaukee County, where Black people are 34.9 times more likely to be arrested and Manitowoc County, where Black people are 29.9 times more likely to be arrested, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union (WPR, 2021).
I encourage our governor to follow suit and issue pardons to all individuals who have been found guilty of simple possession. As we continue to learn more and delve deeper into cannabis research, we must not forget the historical inequities of those whose lives have been impacted.